Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"The Fourth Pillar of Stewardship"

Hebrews 10:23-25

Psalm 122:1-9

     On this Stewardship Dedication Sunday, I’m going to deliver a message about one of the four

pillars of stewardship.  Most of us are familiar with three of those pillars:  stewardship of time;

stewardship of talent; stewardship of treasure.  The three T’s.  While those three pillars are vitally

important to our Christian lives – both personally and in community – I would propose that the fourth

pillar bears the greatest load in terms of maintaining a firm and steady Christian posture.  That fourth

pillar is what we call “corporate” or “community” worship; what we do in this hour; understanding our

worship together as a foundational act of Christian stewardship.

          (Read Psalm 122:1-9)

      I’ve spent more time than I care to admit doing everything but begging people to come to church

on Sunday.  Sadly, many of those are folks who have committed themselves to membership in this

very congregation.  Maybe I need your help.  At any rate, I’ve heard the litany of reasons every pastor

has heard about why folks can’t attend worship on a regular basis.  One I’ve heard enough times to

gag me is:  “There are too many hypocrites in church.”  Ironically, many of these same folks accuse

church people of being “judgmental,” while they themselves are judging people as hypocrites.  That’s

rich.  Author Philip Yancey admitted he was critical of all those hypocrites in the church until some-

thing occurred to him:  “What would my church look like if every member thought just like me?”  He

didn’t like the answer, for he was guilty of his own judgment.  So he decided to concentrate on his

own spiritual integrity, and not worry about everyone else’s.  Also among that list of reasons we’ve

heard:  “It’s the only morning we can sleep in;” “My husband or wife won’t go with me;” “The kids

have [you fill in the blank] on Sunday mornings;” “I’m not moved by the service.  It’s too slow and

dull;” “I had a bad experience in church, so I don’t go anymore.”  That last one is akin to saying, “I had

a bad experience in a restaurant, so I don’t eat out anymore.” 

      While I try to encourage – okay, beg – people to come to church, I ultimately have to pray and rely

on the Holy Spirit to convince them of the one reason to attend church and join others in communal

worship -- which is God.  The word “worship” derives from the Old English word “worthship,” meaning

that “one is worthy.”  We believe it is God alone who is worthy of our praise and adoration.  Worship

then becomes, in essence, our heart’s response to all God is, and says, and does.  When we really

believe that God is worthy, nothing will keep us away.

     There are some folk who have a tendency to bargain with God; something of a contract-based

faith: “Sure I’ll worship God….. if He treats me well.”  So for some, when life doesn’t fit expectations,

they are quick to give up on God, and church, and corporate worship.  One of the things which hope-

fully happens as we worship is that we learn to respond as a community to the inevitable ups and

downs of life; to the reality that life will often not fit or fulfill expectations.  We discover through

worship that faith means trusting in God, even when life doesn’t make much sense.  That is faith’s

comfort, and faith’s challenge. 

      Other people think church is a place of holy entertainment (which when You think about it is far

more me-centered than God-centered);  a place to get a buzz, in a manner of speaking; a spiritual

high.  I’ll admit, I often get a spiritual buzz of my own during worship, as I listen to the choir anthem,

or get caught up in an offertory piece Leigh plays, or join my voice with hundreds of others in this

room.  But if worship in any way aims to become a venue for entertainment, it becomes about us, and

misses the point of praising God alone as worthy.  While we may sometimes applaud one who brings

us inspiration through word, music, or song, there is only one applause which really matters, and that

is from God.

      In our Psalm this morning, David proclaims that he is glad when he’s told “Let us go to the house

of the Lord!”  What accounts for his gladness?  He knows that he’ll find his true spiritual family there. 

He knows that he will learn – from God’s word, in the company of others – more about the meaning

and purpose of life.  He knows he’ll gain strength for the days ahead.  And ultimately, he will recognize

and acknowledge the worthiness of God to be thanked and praised.  And nothing’s going to keep him

away. 

     Notice this: David does not say “Let me go to the house of the Lord!”  It’s “Let us.…”  Worship

here is not primarily understood as a solitary act, although we certainly can and should offer our

personal and private worship.  David seems to emphasize this pillar of worship to be part of a much

larger community act and structure.  “Let us….!”  Faith is not purely internal.  It is designed to be

shared and lived out in community.  A Christian should live by the credo:  “My body ought to be

available to the body of Christ.”  Paul Tournier, Swiss author, once observed:  “There are two things

we cannot do alone – one is to be married; and the other is to be a Christian.”  I submit that worship

is an expression and an admission of our need of each other. 

      Don’t you know there are people who go to church to be left alone; to be spectators rather than

participants.  Maybe that’s one of the appeals of so-called mega churches, where it’s easy to get

lost in the crowd.  I believe we need to participate with each other in what is going on in worship.

That’s why here at Central, at multiple points in the service, we participate in offering worship to-

gether:  responsive and unison litanies and prayers; hymns and choral responses; applauding toge-

ther when inspired together; expressing prayer concerns; passing the offering plates; sharing the loaf

and cup of Holy Communion.  All this is “Let us….! stuff.  We’re not the audience when we come to

community worship.  God is the audience.  And when we leave, it’s okay to ask: “What did I get out

of church?”  It’s far better to ask: “Was God pleased by my worship?”  Certainly there are many ways

to worship God when we gather at God’s place.  Though styles of community worship vary, we come

together to encounter and exalt the Lord.

       Jerusalem is described by David in verse 3 of our Psalm as “a city which is bound firmly toge-

ther.”  In Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship, the twelve tribes of Israel came together in com-
munity.  That city, and its temple, was far more than architecture. It was people living out their belief

and faith together.  I think about our Monday afternoon quilting group.  The women assemble and

spend hours constructing quilts; the various pieces coming into unison to form a beautiful totality.  In

the same way, diverse people – people of various tribes and traditions if you will -- make up the

church.  Our totality is enriched by our diversity.  We come together to worship in order to break

down barriers of tribe and tradition in an environment of unconditional acceptance.  David in Psalm

122 alludes to the architecture of the city to make a point – the stones of the city and its temple fit

together, firmly bound, making it a place to go when the things of life seem not to be fitting together;

even crumbling.

      I’ve heard some folk accuse faith in the Christian sense, and going to church to worship, as being

a crutch; something for weak people who can’t make it on their own, or stand on their own two feet. 

The self-sufficient and the self-satisfied who make such accusations find their support and comfort in


what they believe is secure; usually worldly matters and material things.  Eventually, they realize that

what they’re trusting in to hold them up gives out.  One thing about a crutch – it keeps us from

falling when our limbs are weak.  In that sense, faith functions as a crutch to protect us.  Okay, call

faith and community worship a crutch if it floats the boat.  But it works.  It helps keep us on our feet.

It gives us necessary support when everything else seems to be giving out.  The fact is, church has

little to offer to those who refuse to admit their need.  Someone once said though, “The church may

not be for everyone today, but it will be for everyone sooner or later.” 

    David adds in verse 4 that the tribes gather “to give thanks [or in some translations, to give praise]

to the name of the Lord.”  Praise and thanksgiving are the quintessentially appropriate responses to

God’s goodness.  Sometimes, we don’t’ feel so thankful or full of praise.  Our emotions often govern

us, even to the point where worshiping in community is the last thing we feel like doing.  Yet when

we discipline ourselves to faithful worship – seeing it as a learning and growing experience – we dis-

cover how our faith is being increased; our relationship with God, and one another, fed and nurtured.

      Moving to verse 5, David remarks that in Jerusalem, “thrones of judgment were set.” The Hebrew

word here for “judgment” is le/mis/pat, which means a clear decisive word by which things are set

right.  In a world filled with confusion and uncertainty, we gather together at church to be informed;

to hear a decisive, authoritative word.  We come to hear:  “Thus saith the Lord.”  We come to church

collectively to hear a message of clarity and hope which might speak to the world’s confusion and

uncertainty we all share in this convulsed age.

     Even so, we are to come together on Sunday morning to pray for peace, even in such a time as this;

even for such places where the possibility of peace seems remote.  David goes on in verse 6: “Pray for

the peace of Jerusalem” – yes, even in the war-torn Middle East – “Peace be within your walls........

Peace be within you.”  All this, David declares, “for the sake of my relatives and friends.”  Our pre-

sence in the worshiping community makes a statement.  It tells the world that it’s not about us.  It’s

about God whom we seek to serve; whose peace we seek to promote; whose children - near and far -

are important to us.  And our worship, as David’s Psalm, ultimately sends us forth on this note:  “For

the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” 

      So why gather for community worship?  Here are eight bullets: First, it’s a pillar of our Christian

dwelling; our very selves.  Second, it allows us to present a united testimony of Gods’ ‘worthship.’

Third, it provides us connection with our true spiritual family, wherein we are built up for the journey

of life, with all its inevitable ups and downs.  Fourth, it allows us to actively participate in bringing God

our public praise and thanksgiving.  Fifth, it provides us a harmonious and solid structure when every-

thing seems to be falling about us.  Sixth, it reminds us of God’s steady and unfailing support when we

find it difficult to stand on our own.  Seventh, it is part of a tool chest of spiritual disciplines which

helps increase our faith and enrich our relationship with the Almighty.  Eighth, it provides us a time

and place to together hear a word of forgiveness, peace, hope, and promise.  Phew!  Like my dentist

sometimes says, “Hang in there buddy.  We’re almost done.”  Christian author Eugene Peterson en-

capsulates the purpose of community worship when he writes:  “Worship does not satisfy our hunger

for God – it whets our appetite.  Our need for God is not taken care of by engaging in worship – it

deepens.  It overflows the hour and permeates the week.” 

      I’d like to close this morning with a neat little story for you Paul Newman fans.  Coming into the

presence of God in worship should awe us something like this:  A woman entered an ice cream store in

the Kansas City Plaza.  After making her selection, she turned and found herself face-to-face with Paul

Newman, who was in town filming ‘Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.’  Newman’s blue eyes caused her knees to

buckle.  She managed to pay for her cone, then left the shop; her heart pounding.  When she had

regained her composure, she realized she didn’t have her cone.  She started back into the store to get

it and met Paul Newman coming out.  He asked, ‘Mam, are you looking for you ice cream cone?’  She

nodded, unable to speak.  With a twinkle in his eye he said, ‘You put it in your purse with your change.’

      When was the last time our worship brought us into the presence of God, and quickened our pulse

and profoundly affected our lives?  I pray it’s today….. and again next week. 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102